Portuguese American Journal

Book | By the Rivers of Babylon | by António Lobo Antunes – Editor’s Note

A profound and genre-defying work of literature about love, death, and illness from one of Portugal’s most celebrated writers. Incapacitated after the removal of a malignant tumor, the narrator, António, spends his days in a Lisbon hospital enduring the humiliations of severe illness. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, he revisits fragments of his life and the people who passed through it.

He recalls the village where he lived as a child near the Mondego River amid the eucalyptus and pines, his parents and grandparents and their tight-knit community of potato farmers and tungsten miners, and the woman he loved—an unexpected polyphony of voices and places sounding in sharp counterpoint to debilitating pain.

By the Rivers of Babylon, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, conjures the past and the present all at once, revealing the power of memory to embolden us in the face of extraordinary suffering. This is António Lobo Antunes’s homage to the beauty of a cherished life in its confrontation with imminent death.


“Little prepares one for this extraordinary book, in which each chapter, covering a single day, and lasting a single sentence, offers a teeming stream of consciousness. . . . Even pain is alive, and alive is the word for this book, alive and enduring.”— Michael Autrey, Booklist

“Arguably the greatest living Portuguese writer. . . . This work has undeniable literary merit.”—Lawrence Olszewski, Library Journal

“At work here in the fields of Joyce, Lobo Antunes uses a rolling, swirling syntax to capture the actual movements of human consciousness. His lightly punctuated sentences run forward and loop on themselves almost without pause, sweeping this reader along through an intense mental journey and leaving him amazed and enlightened. By the Rivers of Babylon is a remarkable literary accomplishment.”—Billy Collins

By the Rivers of Babylon is another stunning achievement by Lobo Antunes, expertly rendered by the multi-gifted Jull Costa. Reading this bold meditation on Eros and Thanatos you are firmly in the presence of permanence, of the great god Literature.”—William Giraldi, author of American Audacity


About the Author

António Lobo Antunes, born in Lisbon and trained as a psychiatrist, is the author of more than thirty books. He has been named as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He served with the Portuguese Army taking part in the Portuguese Colonial War (1961–1974). In a military hospital, in Angola, he became interested in the subjects of death and “the other.” The Angolan War of Independence was the subject of many of his novels.  In 1979, Lobo Antunes published his first novel, Memória de Elefante (Elephant’s Memory). His style is considered to be very dense, heavily influenced by William Faulkner and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. 

About the Translator

Margaret Jull Costa has been a literary translator for over thirty years. She has translated the works of many Spanish and Portuguese writers and has won the Portuguese Translation Prize twice and been shortlisted twice. She won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Weidenfeld Translation Prize twice, and the Pen Translation Prize. She has been awarded an OBE and was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She lives in Leicester, UK.


Book Details

Title: By the Rivers of Babylon

Author: António Lobo Antunes

Translator: Margaret Jull Costa

Publisher:‎ Yale University Press

Publication Date: April 25, 2023

Language: English

Hardcover: 248pp

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